This is her second time on a horse.
At first, Lisa Borowski, Board Operations Manager at the Philadelphia Police Foundation, is reluctant to climb aboard Sonny, a Kentucky Mountain horse.
Her last ride was, in her words, “about a million years ago,” but with encouragement from stable staff – and a brief invocation for divine providence – Borowski places her left foot in the stirrup, then secures two hands on the saddle, and then throws her right leg over Sonny’s back.
“This is a fringe benefit of the job, isn’t it?,” she asks from on high.
Rebuilding a police unit from scratch
Borowksi, along with over 30 horses and riders, saddled up on Sunday for a ride in the Wissahickon Valley to benefit the Philadelphia Police Department’s recently reinstated Mounted Patrol Unit.
Sponsored by the Philadelphia Chapter of the Pennsylvania Equine Council and the Philadelphia Police Foundation, the event – titled “Pony Up for the Philadelphia Police Mounted Patrol Unit” – sought to raise money for the Mounted Unit and bring attention to Fairmount Park’s horse-friendly trails.
Disbanded in 2004, the PPD’s Mounted Unit is currently in the process of rebuilding itself from what was once an organization with 190 horses.
Borowksi stated that the unit currently has nine horses and three trailers in which to transport them, with planned operational capacity consisting of 20 to 30 horses.
In consultation with the PPD, the Police Foundation is actively building a donor base.
“This is a new thing on a big stage,” said Borowski in regard to the task of assembling an entire police unit from scratch.
In the past, the Police Foundation – a 501(c)(3) founded in 1998 – had solicited assistance from the business community to aid in the acquisition of bicycles, bulletproof vests, and motorized Segways.
According to Borowski, the Foundation has raised between $150,000 and $170,000 for the Mounted Unit. Of this, $100,000 stems from a Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development grant sponsored by State Senator Larry Farnese.
She added that major fundraising for the project has been delayed by the need to formalize the unit, but with this task accomplished, they can now move forward in earnest.
“This is our biggest undertaking to date,” said Burowski, and “we’re especially glad for the help of the equine community.”
Returning to the stables
Taking the reins from Burowksi, Cynthia Turecki leads Sonny away from the registration desk at Courtesy Stables in Andorra and into the Wissahickon trail system.
Turecki – who has, in her words, “lived and breathed in Manayunk” her entire life – is Co-Director of Courtesy Stables and unofficial goodwill ambassador for everything equestrian.
While the aim of the event is to raise money for the mounted unit, Turecki has an ulterior motive of sorts – outreach.
“We’re looking to get more horse people aware of the riding possibilities in the park,” she says, and compliments the efforts of the Friends of the Wissahickon in building and preserving shared-use trails that divert water while maintaining integrity, and are equine-friendly.
It is on one such trail that she encounters two members of the PPD Mounted Unit, Officers Eddie Holmes and Dave Toth, respectively riding horses Whitby and Teddy.
Officers Holmes and Toth – both veterans from the first incarnation of the mounted unit – are returning to the stables after riding to Valley Green.
“We’re just feeling our way along the trail from what I remembered,” says Officer Holmes, adding, ‘It’s been a long time.”
In the intervening period, Holmes served as firearms instructor and Toth worked at the airport.
In addition to today’s largely-ceremonial duty, more experienced mounted unit members are detailed to major events such as Eagles games, where several of their colleagues are presently on patrol.
Less experienced members of the unit remain in training, and as new horses are added – like Teddy, with only one month on – they too will learn the rigors of policing.
Life after rescue and rehab
Riding downhill toward Forbidden Drive, Sonny carefully negotiates the trail’s stony grade while Turecki explains the symbiotic relationship between horse and rider.
“It’s an old saying that a good horse person talks to a horse, and that a great horse person listens to a horse,” says Turecki.
They key is communication – both verbal and non-verbal – and it is these expressive elements that contribute to the positive interactions between mounted patrol and the community.
Unlike a police car, says Turecki, “a person on a horse is something you want to come and talk to.”
Arriving at Valley Green, Turecki’s observations are vindicated. Linking up with a group of riders from Last Chance Ranch in front of the Valley Green Inn, parents, children, tourists, and even dogs descend upon the horses in curiosity and wonder.
While a member of Courtesy Stables works the crowd for donations for the mounted unit, Lori McCutcheon, President and Founder of Last Chance Ranch [LCR], explains how horses are selected for police duty.
At LCR, their horses are purchased at auction, often a step away from slaughter. After the “rescue,” horses are then rehabilitated and retrained before being given to the police department.
Training can include exposure to streets, bridges, trails, as well as familiarization with police sirens, crowds, and, notably, umbrellas. McCutcheon says that they often play volleyball during training – with the horse acting as the net.
“Horses are looking for approval and acceptance,” she explains. “A lot of what we do (in training) comes down to trust.”
According to McCutcheon, building trust runs about $3,000 to $5,000 per horse, the cost of which is offset by grants and donations.
She points out that even though these are rescue horses, the mounted unit won’t be receiving lemons.
“A rescue horse doesn’t mean that it’s dying and decrepit,” says McCutcheon. “It’s just in a bad place and can be retrained.”
“We know what the police department is looking for,” she adds.
Qualities of a good patrol horse
They’re looking for a few good horses. Like Ranger.
Ranger is a larger horse, a cross breed of Draught, possibly mixed with a Morgan. The PPD Mounted Unit is coming out on Tuesday to examine him for possible service.
Shanley Benetz from the Last Chance Ranch sits atop Ranger, and explains the qualities that make for a good patrol horse.
“They look for stockier horses,” she says, suggesting that thicker horses “don’t break down as easily.”
In addition, horses with a darker hue are preferred, giving off a uniform appearance.
Lastly, the mounted unit wants horses that are what Benetz termed as being “non-spookier” – that is to say, saner.
“The police department puts them through tests,” she says, to assess the horses’ competencies. “If the horses are already there” – trained – “it makes the job easier.”
This is her first time riding Ranger, but Benetz sees good things in his future.
“He’s a great horse,” she declares, adding, “I think he’s going to do really well with the police.”
For those participating in Sunday’s event, the funds raised – more than $3,000, according to Turecki, with more in pledged donations soon to arrive – will not only benefit the PPD Mounted Patrol Unit, it will impact the community at large, to say nothing of the animals themselves.
“What better way for the horses,” says LCR’s Judy Grant, “than to be saved from slaughter, trained, and then go on to serve the public?”